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Paul and the Apocalyptic Triumph

An Investigation of the Usage of Jewish and Greco-Roman Imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18


Michael E. Peach

1 Thessalonians 4:13–18 has long been the quintessential Pauline text on the parousia of Christ. Nowhere else does Paul reveal a more vivid picture of Christ’s coming. The apostle Paul employs a number of images to describe the parousia to the Thessalonian congregation who have become anxious, grief-stricken, and despairing in the midst of the loss of their loved ones. Until recently scholars have held that Paul’s use of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 was either inspired by Greco-Roman imperial categories or Jewish apocalyptic categories.
Michael E. Peach provides a fresh examination of imagery in 1 Thess. 4:13–18 arguing that Paul synthesizes both the Jewish and Greco-Roman imagery. With careful analysis, Peach traces the history of interpretation of Pauline eschatology finding patterns of thought concerning the source of inspiration of Paul’s use of imagery. Utilizing these patterns, the author further examines the meaning and function of four images employed by Paul: «a loud command,» «the sound of an archangel,» «the trumpet of God,» and «the meeting of the Lord.» Ultimately, Peach’s discoveries demonstrate that Paul synthesizes apocalyptic and Greco-Roman triumph imagery to create a dramatic mosaic of the apocalyptic triumph, the parousia of Jesus Christ.
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Chapter 1. The History of Interpretation of Pauline Eschatology


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Wayne A. Meeks in his 2001 article “Judaism, Hellenism, and the Birth of Christianity” proposes an important question: “Why must it be assumed that when Judaism and Hellenism meet, it must be on a battleground?”1 Until the middle of the twentieth century, the thought was that these two worldviews and cultures, during the time of Paul the apostle, were at odds with each other and never amalgamated. It was assumed that there was a great divide between the two. Judaism was on one side. Hellenism was on the other. However, today the tide has turned. A consensus is growing and has been growing that the relationship between Judaism and Hellenism is much more hospitable.2 Scholars have found that first century Judaism was indeed influenced by Hellenism, especially in the Diaspora.3 There is no question that Paul lived and worked within this variegated community.

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